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Solo dev Michael Cosio of Terror at Oakheart “Allow yourself the time to recharge, laugh and love “

In the 2D side scrolling horror game Terror at Oakheart players follow a diverse cast of characters that are all destined to die gruesomely at the hands of a psychotic serial killer known as Teddy. The game is developed by Californian solo dev Michael Cosio, working under the name of Tainted Pact. The idea for Terror at Oakheart was born during development of Cosio’s last game ‘Suffer The Night’. “In that game I made a little 2D side scroller arcade mini-game that players could play”, he says. “From there I knew I wanted to make a full 2D game to expand my knowledge and catalog.”

Being a horror game dev, Cosio draws inspiration from other movies, games and stories in that genre. When he has an idea, he just ‘runs with it’. “I like planning key moments in a story but then allowing myself to explore how to get those moments when I’m in the thick of it.” To make sure he doesn’t get lost in his work, Cosio has a schedule and makes an effort to stick to it. “Allowing yourself the time to recharge, laugh, and love helps keep your head in a good place”, he admits. 

Why did you become a solo developer?

“I don’t think there was any single moment that led to me deciding to become a solo developer. It was just a slow journey of learning different skills associated with game development allowing me to do most things on my own.”

What are the biggest advantages of working solo?

“Creative freedom I would say is the biggest and most enjoyable thing about working solo. I can move at my own pace, make decisions/changes on the fly, and overall enjoy the creative process.”

And the biggest pitfalls?

“I think time management is personally my biggest issue. It is so easy for me to get lost in my work for hours and hours and then look up and realize the day is over. It is important to have a schedule and stick to it. Game development should just be one aspect of your life, not the only aspect of your life.”

What’s your creative process?

“Being mainly a horror game developer I draw a lot of inspiration from other works of art from that genre. It could be a movie, another game, a story, or a painting that plants a seed of an idea. From there I run with that idea. Some developers like to have a game completely planned out before they even write a single line of code. For me, the creative process is an ever-changing one. I like planning key moments in a story but then allowing myself to explore how to get those moments when I’m in the thick of it.”

How do you stay motivated through (years of) development?

“I was a musician before I went to school to learn game development and during those years of playing music, I learned that my brain is wired with an urge to create. I love just being creative whether it’s art, music, or in this case video games. The beautiful thing about game development is that it encapsulates so many passions of mine that it is not hard to stay motivated.”

Will you ever work in a team or is it only solo for you?

“I would love to find some gifted 2D and 3D artists that I could partner with. I have hired freelancers in the past to work with me on projects to help with the sheer workload of art assets that need to be made. But it’s hard to find dedicated individuals who haven’t already been snatched up by a studio that I could work with consistently.”

How did you get the idea for Terror at Oakheart?

“In my last game ‘Suffer The Night’ I made a little arcade mini-game that players could play that was a prototype of a 2D side scroller. I learned all the framework from that experience. From there I knew I wanted to make a 2D game to expand my knowledge and catalog. I think it is important to challenge yourself to learn new things which also set me on course to make ‘Terror At Oakheart’. The idea for the story of the game came from a mix of my love for Lovecraft and campy slasher movies from the 80s such as Friday The 13th and Halloween.”

What’s the biggest lesson learned from this project?

“I would say patience was my biggest lesson here. When I work on something for a long period the only thing I want to do is show it to the world and say “LOOK AT WHAT I MADE”! But preparing for a proper release is super important in this industry which takes time. Luckily, I have the people over at Assemble Entertainment as my publisher. They help rein me in and keep things in perspective.”

The toll on your mental health can be quite high for solo developers. How do you deal with that? 

“Yeah, this is quite the issue and I don’t think anyone is completely safe from it. There will always be events in life that are going to affect you negatively. And some days you are going to feel depressed and unmotivated. For me, as I stated earlier I think a schedule helps a lot. Allowing yourself the time to recharge, laugh, and love helps keep your head in a good place. I also have a little dog who always puts a smile on my face no matter what!”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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